Salena Zito

After last Tuesday's pomp, circumstance and, at times, over-the-top love-fest language, it is hard to imagine the Democrats will be especially vulnerable in 2010's races for Congress or state governorships.

From 1934 through 2006, with the exceptions of 1998 (during the Clinton impeachment) and 2002 (following the 9/11 terrorist attacks), a president's party has lost an average of some 26 congressional seats in midterm elections.

In 2010, 34 U.S. Senate seats will be up for grabs, along with all 435 in the U.S. House.

However, with Senate vacancies created by Vice President Joe Biden (Delaware), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (New York) and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (Colorado) forcing special elections in 2010, 36 states face Senate contests -- including New York, with two.

With a special election required in Illinois for the remainder of President Obama's old term, that adds up to 38 Senate contests nationwide.

If health or age create two vacancies in Massachusetts and West Virginia, that would make 40 Senate contests in 38 states, all in one election cycle.

"I sincerely doubt that the Democrats are likely to lose that many in 2010," says Lara Brown, a political scientist at Villanova University.

She expects a net loss of between five and 10 seats in the House.

"The seats to watch are going to be those conservative Democratic or Republican-leaning districts that Democrats picked up in 2006 and 2008," Brown says.

In the Senate, the election turf appears more favorable to Republicans than it did in 2008. Yet with four GOP retirements already announced, it will not be smooth sailing.

Brown says the Florida seat of retiring Sen. Mel Martinez will be especially difficult for the GOP to hold, assuming former Gov. Jeb Bush doesn't backtrack and decide to run. If Republican Rep. Connie Mack runs, though, he would be a formidable challenge for Democrats.

Republicans also have retirement headaches with the Senate seats of George Voinovich of Ohio and Kit Bond of Missouri. Both will be very competitive races on which the GOP likely must spend substantial sums.

Democrats have to be favored in Ohio, given the strength of the state party and the field of candidates -- but don't discount U.S. Rep. Ron Portman, a Cincinnati Republican, as a candidate who could win.

Pennsylvania's Senate seat held by Arlen Specter is one to watch. Now that a primary race is out of the question, it will be Specter versus one of many potential Democrats.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.